Alistair Gentry analyses the results of Unlimited’s consultation with disabled artists and arts organisations on the environmental problems of the present, and sustainable futures. Read part one here, which includes an introduction to the research.
All the illustrations here were drawn for us by INTO Doodles. (Instagram: @INTO_Doodles)
What can we actually do as disabled artists and individuals to address climate emergency?
Soundbite: “Be in the conversation, advocate for one another – but don’t do all the labour.”
Lessons: Model the change you want to see. Remember you’re an artist. Confront, push back, do what artists do well; make big subjects and emotions personal and understandable.
V: “Make work. Draw attention to the issues. Work with those active in the culture/climate emergency field to look at overlaps and omissions. Improve our own practices.”
F: “We can collaborate and learn from our peers.”
I: “As this is an emergent and pressing issue world-wide, as artists we should confront it– and if it touches us on the disability part of our identity, than let it create some reaction, investigation and art.”
L: “We can make the intangible tangible– climate emergency is so big it can be hard to fathom and understand– as communicators and artists we can make this intangible thing real for everyone.”
K: “Be in the conversation, advocate for one another– but don’t do all the labour. Push back at organisations, policy-makers and non-disabled people to consider disability when thinking about climate emergency too.”
Do you think it’s helpful or productive for organisations, galleries, and venues to declare climate emergency? If so, why? Or if not, why?
Soundbite: “Be kind and get behind the positive news stories that can encourage positive change.”
Lessons: There’s a lot of scepticism and cynicism about companies or organisations declaring climate emergency. They need to match their promises with strong action and change, or they risk doing more harm than good. Ultimately, though, doing something is probably better than doing nothing.
E: “It is productive in a way that creates visibility and discourse around the issues but it is too early to say if substantial change will happen. There should also be some restrictions on who can take part i.e. if you are an organisation sponsored by an oil company you shouldn’t be able to declare climate emergency as it makes the whole movement look like a farce.”
I: “Many organisations, galleries and venues do declare climate emergency as a marketing tool, (there are) also accessibility issues, but as they need to address it, they start to actually engage with it and some of it is air and some of it is productive and helpful.”
L: “If a climate emergency is declared but no real action is taken then this is disingenuous and potentially damaging to the cause.”
C: “Even if they are just greenwashing, that could be beneficial to swaying government and public support to do more and take climate change more seriously. You know what, we can criticise every institution for every decision they make, or we can just be kind and get behind the positive news stories that can encourage positive change.”
V: “Many are just doing it to look good. But also I think it’s hard when there isn’t a tick box list (and I know there can’t be). Would love people to be held to account more.”
Y: “Yes I believe it’s vital. Art can challenge denialist opinions and can evoke personal and emotional responses to the theoretically abstract crisis.”
A: “Yes, if it means something, if it’s backed up with action.”
What, if anything, are you already doing to work in a more environmentally sustainable way? Are you doing anything to prepare, adjust or adapt to climate emergency?
Soundbite: “We are developing best practice guides to draw out success and positive working to influence positive change.”
Lessons: Many artists already work in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way instinctively or from necessity, so we can learn from them. But it also doesn’t just happen, and doesn’t happen so much or effectively without consideration and conversation. Make it your own responsibility, and/or the specific responsibility of someone on the team.
I: “I think I have a lot of sustainable methods which honestly are not done by a conscious decision, but because it’s easier for me.”
Y: “We have a strategy and where we can improve our own practices around key emissions we are (fuel, travel, waste etc.) Where we don’t control that, we are developing best practice guides and narratives that draw out success and positive working to influence positive change.”
U: “At the beginning of our project we wanted to try to measure our carbon impact. But as is the case with lots of things that are not assigned to someone as part of their job description it didn’t happen.”
V: “As a benefit claiming pauper, I find I use a lot of recycled stuff, stuff that would be thrown away, stuff that I can get free.”
A: “Analysing the waste that is created by particular activities and finding ways of designing out that waste is the most challenging part but I feel we are on the right trajectory.”
O: “We have been trying not to fly within Europe. However, that means very long journeys on ferries and trains through many countries over days. Obviously this is not realistic for everyone, for a wide variety of reasons. We have a conversation for every trip we are considering with whoever is on the team.”
What kind of support would you need for your organisation to be more environmentally sustainable?
Soundbite: “A shorter working week should be a future ambition for the arts sector… less activity but doing it a more environmentally and socially sustainable way.”
Lessons: Clear, objective and reliable information resources are needed. Accept that being greener may mean doing less, but better. Poverty is a perennial problem for artists and for disabled people– many of the difficulties they face could be solved relatively easily by throwing money at them instead of perpetuating an arts sector culture of quick and dirty solutions, overwork and underpay.
V: “Better guidance that isn’t contradictory and eases you in (impossible I know).”
Y: “We’re really interested in sustainable energy procurement but we can’t do it alone!”
A: “I think a willingness work more slowly, work less hours, don’t work 40 hours a week at a computer. I strongly believe that a shorter working week should be a future ambition for the arts sector. This will also mean less activity but doing it a more environmentally and socially sustainable way.”
O: “We seek practical knowledge on the circular economy and new ways of working.”
E: “More money! At the end of the day a lot of choices in terms of choosing more ethical produce or products and travel come down to cost.”
I: “Professional advice, maybe even a survey of my practice and its green effects. As a paraplegic in a wheelchair, I need manual help if I want to avoid using cars for deliveries.”
L: “We need artists to be able to create and present their work at a slower pace and with less focus on the cheapest, fastest way of working– it’s not just about miles, it’s about time to reuse and reconsider, time to explore new ways of working – this isn’t possible if we have to cram as much work in as possible to make ends meet.”
C: “Expertise, knowledge, sharing networks– and then of course time and money.”
N: “Pay me more for my work.”
How essential is local, national and/or international travel for artists or arts organisations? How do you think this might be different for disabled people and if it is, why?
Soundbite: “I wonder if in response to climate change we’ll see a demand for and championing of locally produced work?”
Lessons: Sometimes artists have little choice but to travel over large distances if they want any kind of ongoing career… but some disabled artists can’t do this easily or at all, no matter how much they may want to or need to. The most sustainable forms of transport can be the most difficult and expensive ones for a disabled person.
Y: “International networking and exchange is really important for our organisation. Staff travel is carefully considered; we will always consider travelling via ferry or train and try to limit air travel whenever possible… the prospect of having to constantly ‘make a case’ for alternative travel arrangements would be exhausting for a person with a disability.”
V: “Much of the ‘difference’ that can be made is made on the ground, by people interacting with you in the same space– this doesn’t happen if you only attend remotely.”
G: “It’s a specialised field and there are only ever going to be so many opportunities in any given country or part of a country.”
E: “Very important, and the most sustainable transport options are not always possible for those with disabilities, i.e. anyone who suffers from fatigue or has to manage pain may not be able to use public transport as frequently as someone who is able bodied.”
F: “Often, there are often additional travel or stay costs involved and insurance premiums go up when you have chronic illnesses. To me that is discriminatory.”
I: “I think international travel is crucial for a sustainable career as an artist and particularly from less developed countries. I think as disabled artists it is magnified because of the small local markets and awareness to disability art. Also in terms of the disability and its physical obstacles, for some a long drive is just not possible and a flight enables you to get faster to the place you need.”
L: “I think the priority for artists has historically been that you have to be able to travel where the work is, but I wonder if in response to climate change we’ll see a demand for and championing of locally produced work.”
H: “Travel is essential as a freelance artist. It is more expensive for people of limited mobility.”